The following report was published in the October issue of the Pork News and Views newsletter. Selected resources from the Workshop Manual are available at www.ontariopork.ca under “Production Standards-Animal Care Resources” or www.prairieswine.com.
OMAFRA, with support from Ontario Pork and Prairie Swine Centre (PSC), held a very successful Group Sow Housing Workshop this past September in Stratford. The one-day workshop was presented on consecutive days and limited to 50 participants each day to allow for greater participation and discussion. It provided practical information on group sow management, sow feeding systems and helped answer questions about renovations and new design which followed the new Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pigs that was released in Canada this past spring. Three Ontario producers described their experiences transitioning to group sow housing systems followed by Dr. Jennifer Brown and Dr. Yolande Seddon, Prairie Swine Centre Group Sow Housing researchers, discussing the merits of each system. Dr. Kees de Lange, University of Guelph, explained how feeding systems need to change for a successful transition to feeding sows in group housing. The following is a brief report on the workshop.
New Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pigs
The new Code was released in March this year. Dr. Brown presented an overview of relevant areas. It includes changes to sow housing, pain management, space allowances, and environmental enrichment. For new construction there is a requirement that by July 1, 2014 mated gilts and sows must be housed in groups, with allowances around breeding and group management. As of July 1, 2024, gilts and sows must be housed in groups, or in individual pens, or in stalls if they are provided with the opportunity to turn around or exercise periodically, or otherwise have greater freedom of movement (suitable options will be clarified by July 1, 2019 based on scientific evidence). The Code is available at: www.nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice/pigs.
National Sow Housing Conversion Project (NSHCP)
Dr. Brown also presented a summary of a project that will develop and document demonstration sites across the country to provide resources and advice for producers, and to create a central database of information. Producers will be able to see examples and evaluate different group housing systems. The project is looking for producers interested in barn renovations for group housing in 2015-2016, and who would be interested in sharing herd information and renovation documentation. In exchange, producers will receive: expert advice on renovation planning, management; training assistance with funding applications; and compensation for research barn access.
Group Housing with ESF
Mr. Doug Ahrens presented his experiences in setting up a system using Electronic Sow Feeding (ESF) and dynamic group housing. Dr. Brown then provided a comparison of group housing vs. individual stalls, and the possible impacts on sow welfare and production levels. She outlined the options available for group housing (feeding system, flooring, grouping strategy, grouping timing). In all there are 72 combinations of these factors that could be used:
What are the options?*
*From H. Gonyou
She compared aspects of the options and reported a Quebec industry analysis of the cost of conversion for different housing options, and the floor space requirements of the different feed systems. Acknowledging that early attempts with ESF systems encountered several challenges, she pointed out that technology, equipment design, and our own familiarity with computers has come a long way in 20 years. There is an increasing number of manufacturers, growing expertise, and a competitive market with new developments expected.
The possible advantages of dynamic mixing she highlighted were: more flexible and efficient use of space; sows can be added over 10 weeks (but at least 10 sows each time); if a sow returns, she can enter in the next cycle; less overall space is required (fewer pens and alleys). Among the disadvantages is the potential for repeated aggression on mixing, but if mixing is well managed aggression can be kept low.
Mr. John Van Engelen presented his experience in converting stalls to a group housing system using ESF. Dr. Seddon followed with an overview of pen configurations and management strategies to consider when implementing ESF. A common problem is that of ‘sow recycling’, when sows repeatedly enter the ESF system to try to get more feed. This reduces sow throughput, can cause some sows to miss a feeding, create stress and competition, and increase wear and tear on the equipment. Steps to reduce recycling include designing the layout so it is farther to walk to regain access (e.g. by using a dividing wall), using a shutter or retractable feed bowl, and ensuring feeders are not overstocked.
Dr. Seddon illustrated a number of barn designs and rules of thumb when considering the layout of ‘bedroom’ lying areas, alleyways and areas of passing, conserving space (especially when converting from an existing barn footprint), and the importance of flooring to sow leg health. The importance of training was emphasized, and a number of tips provided. Both producers who spoke about ESF indicated that training had been a challenge and that starting with their gilts would have been a better approach. She concluded with some good general management and grouping strategies.
Competitive Feeding Systems
Mr. Geert Geene provided information on his group housing system using a trough based drop feed system. Dr. Seddon followed with and outline of different competitive feedings systems, space considerations, and pen design and management strategies. Floor feeding vs. non gated stall systems, different flooring types, and building space requirements were compared. Although there is generally lower capital costs compared to ESF, there are challenges around controlling individual feeding and dominant sows. With careful management and observation these can be managed, but this probably requires more labour than an ESF system. She provided a comprehensive overview of factors to consider when making a decision, including barn design, feeder types, and space allowances.
Dr. de Lange presented a thorough overview of “Nutrition for group sow housing”. He starting with the observations that, while the number of pigs born has increased, it is lightweight pigs that have increased, and that birth weight influences body weight at market time. This led to his outline of strategies to improve gestation feeding to improve sow lifetime productivity through an increase in piglet birth weight with increasing litter size, while controlling feed costs, improving sow welfare, and decreasing nutrient losses to the environment. Recommended interventions are ‘bump feeding’ of no more than 0.40 kg/d during late gestation, and the use of fiber sources to induce satiety and reduce abnormal behaviour.
He outlined some nutritional aspects of different feeding systems for group housing and their varying requirements for space, capital investment, and operator skill. He suggests that ESF offers the most potential for the dynamic and precision feeding of individual sows.
The workshop was well attended and generated a lot of questions and good discussion on the producer reports and the options and issues presented by the three researchers.
The manual included handouts from the presenters and a number of relevant resources including excerpts from the Code of Practice and factsheets and information on sow housing and behaviour from the Prairie Swine Centre. Selected resources are available at www.ontariopork.ca under “Production Standards-Animal Care Resources” or www.prairieswine.com.